From Docker River to Boulia, the scene is that of an ancient landscape, weathered down over eons of time from an epoch in Earths history that saw the very earth rusting. Born of this time are the burnt ombre’s, reds and sun bleached sands left by time. Travelling on what is the end tail of the Outback Hwy you will encounter both dirt track and welcome tar. The most spectacular highlights are the ancient rocks of the Red Centre, the magnificent gorges of the MacDonnell Ranges… or the Caterpillar Ranges, to use an Aboriginal description that has been a reference for thousands of years.
Approaching Kata Tjuta and Uluru from the west is a very different experience than the normal tourist run. We chose not to stop over at Yulara Resort Settlement as the resort experience was not what we were seeking and it is a hideously expensive stop. After two weeks negotiating that wonderful dirt track from Laverton to Docker River we still found our thoughts steeped in the mystique of the deserts. Electing instead to stop over at the Freecamp just east of Uluru we discovered the ‘cheap seats’ to the beautiful display of sunrise and sunset over our two major Australian icons of the Red Centre. Devoid of the usual throng of tourists that usually surround our most infamous icons, it was a perfect spot for our experience of the vast Aussie red centre for a night or two.
A lazy few hundred k’s away, Alice Springs is the NT central supply settlement. Now almost a city in its own right it is the supply outpost for most of the region and a great place to explore. The Desert Wildlife Park on the western outskirts is a gem, a must in your adventure in the Red Heart of our land and the flight show is definitely NOT to be missed.
Alice Springs has changed over the years, it has grown indisputably, yet there are still those things remnant of a harder time. The old world still clashes with the new, as old ways collide with new, but the spirit of the town is still brash and young. It is the spirit of adventure, one of endeavour and one of change. I like the newer Alice more I think, and watching the teenager find herself over time is something of a pleasure.
East from Alice, we entered some of the gem-fields of the Northern Territory. Out on the ‘Plenty Highway’ another challenging section of Australia’s Longest Shortcut, we settled up for a few days to work the river beds. You can find gold around here too… but there is too much ironstone to use the metal detectors. Here the prospectors favourite tool goes ballistic for no good reason at all, so the men have been sieving the river beds for those precious gems. Zircon, garnet, amethyst and other gems this is a great place to explore.
This is one place that I will honestly recommend the caravan park. Not that you shouldn’t spend time parked up in the gem fields which we do… and did. But because this is one of those wonderful exceptions where they truly offer a great service for the casual gem hunter. Gemtree Caravan Park is located in the heart of the Harts Range gem fields and it is a gem in itself. For the novice there are tag-a-long fossicking tours, helpful hints and a great supply store.
Travelling along the Plenty Highway is also a challenge in itself. It is largely a thin strip of tar, used by B-doubles and the couriers of the Outback. It is a road where it is essential that you give way to the big guys. A UPS radio is almost an necessity if you don’t want to spend hours in the dust. Effectively, if there is a big guy coming the other way… you get off the tar and give way. These trucks cannot safely leave the tar ribbon, given their loads and weights, and commonly they call ahead from check points so that no two trucks meet, leaving them to fight for that thin ribbon of tar. As a caravaner, or car you simply are not in the running when competing for that little tar strip. Something well worth remembering if you ever find yourself on the Plenty Highway between NT & Outback Qld.
The best of the tour for us though, was our stop at the end of the ‘Great Central Road’ for us, this at Winton. Australia’s Age of Dinosaur display and centre, found at the jump-up just out of Winton in Old, and it is one of my favourite places. It isn’t merely a unique display of the period where dinosaurs ruled the Earth in Aus’, but a working lab that is open to the public. I have loved watching it grow over the years and it is growing into a wonderful location. For us this was a great way to wind out our tour of travelling the Red Centre of Aus’ and what a tour it has been.
Jan is a Traveller and an Author. You can find out more about her books on travel on the page dedicated to Oldies at Large, where you will also find a list of her blog postings in topic.
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